A Travellerspoint blog

The end, again

That end-of-trip, reflective post

So here I am again. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was writing a similar, reflective, end-of-trip post, 2 1/2 years ago as my year around the world was winding down.

This has definitely been a different kind of trip. When I set out to see the world 3 years ago, I was naive and young, so open to all the new experiences that were thrown my way. This time was different - I'd chosen more difficult, more off the beaten track places to visit (hello, Mozambique!), I'm a more experienced traveler, and I was a bit more prepared for travel in Africa.

It's been an amazing trip. I've collected a few more unbelievable travel stories, seen some of Africa's most beautiful places, and met amazing people. It's the people I meet who always make my trip what it is, the other travelers, who are all making their way through Africa for such different reasons, and the locals, who force me to look at my own life in a different way. I love to meet people who have completely different view points, experiences, opinions than I do; they expand my own horizons and make me look at life, and my own small problems, in a slightly different way. This is one of the best things about traveling.

Traveling in Africa is not at all easy. There were times, when I was crammed in a chapa in Mozambique, or struggling to find someone, anyone, who knew where we were supposed to go in Ghana, that the challenges and frustrations of traveling here made me fed up and ready to go home. But the amazing thing about traveling here is that right when you're at the edge of losing your cool, someone lovely comes along, calms you down, and helps you out. I love traveling in Africa because the frustrations make you appreciate even more what an amazing, beautiful continent this is. Ghana has been especially trying at times; working here is difficult, and trying to make changes is slow and frustrating. But there are so many things about this country that I love. The people here are amazing - so resilient, so generous, they genuinely want to know how you are and what you're doing in Ghana. I love the organized chaos of Ghana, I love all the little quirks that are so unique to this country. Even the signs here make me smile, most of them religious and all of them slightly confusing. Some of my favourites -

Let us Pray Auto Parts
Sweet Smelling Jesus
Jesus Finger Furniture (what??)
Blood of Jesus Nail Care (blood is exactly what I want to think of when getting my nails done)
Jesus's Fine Fashion (he would wear fine fashion)
The Armed Forces: A Friend in Need and Indeed (huh??)

Ghana always manages to make me smile no matter how frustrated and tired I am!

I love those little moments you have when traveling, when you realize how small the world is, how much we all have in common. The opposite is true too - falling asleep in the middle of the Okanvango Delta, surrounded on all sides by 100Km of nothing, or being soaked by one of the largest waterfalls in the world, or standing in the middle of a busy African market, 100s of people around me going about their business, completely ignoring me, I realize what a tiny little speck I am in the world.

This trip has given me a lot of time to think, about where I'm going in life, what I really want from life, what my priorities are. Things in my personal life are all a bit up in the air right now, and as I wait for my flight, I'm preparing to be flung back into reality, where searching for a job, a place to live, and some direction in my life will be my priorities. But always, at the end of adventures like this, I hope that I can keep some of my spirit of openness, my willingness to meet people and say yes to anything, as I go through "normal" life at home.

I've always thought that when I travel, I'm the best version of myself. I'm hoping that over the next little while, at least until I can get my backpack on again, I can keep some of that version of me around.

Until next time! Thanks for reading, pictures of Ghana to come once I get back home and have decent internet again!

xo

Posted by meggiep 07:49 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

Chilling on the Coast

Cape Coast, Ghana

Accra is crazy, dirty, and chaotic. So this weekend, we decided to escape to Cape Coast, a town about 150 Km from Accra on the coast. I went there when I was here last time and it's lovely - there's the castle, famous for it's slave dungeons and being one of the oldest European buildings in Africa, the lovely, palm-lined beach, and Kakum National Park, which is a dense rain forest full of tropical birds and monkeys. It's a great place to escape Accra, if you can get there in one piece!

Emmanuel, Madeline, Lina, and I set out Friday afternoon, and the first part of our journey was easy (if crowded), catching a trotro to the station near where we stay. We had been told by several people that you can catch "Ford vans", which are comfortable, air-conditioned vans with half the passengers of a trotro, at the station near us, but we asked several people and none of them knew what we were talking about. Finally we found someone who knew what we were looking for, but we had to go to Kaneshie market to catch one, the crazy, massive market we had to go to last week.

When we got to Kaneshie, once again no one we asked knew what we were talking about. Finally, after getting different directions from several people, we found the Ford vans, bought tickets, and had a somewhat uneventful (if dangerously fast) journey to Cape Coast.

Somehow the taxi drivers in Cape Coast must have known there were tourists in our Ford van, because when we got there, 10 taxi drivers swarmed the door, yelling at us and asking where we wanted to go. Several of them got into the van and tried to force us to get off. I put on my best teacher voice, and told them that we didn't need a taxi, and even if we did, we weren't going with them because they were harassing us and it wasn't ok. Even the driver of the van tried to convince us that our hotel was too far to walk and we should take his friend's taxi. When we finally got away from them all, we asked someone for directions and our hotel was only a 5 minute walk away! So frustrating!

Once we got there we were able to chill out a bit. It's right on the beach, and on Friday nights they do a big dancing and drumming show. It was a great way to unwind after our stressful journey!

Saturday morning we found an amazing vegetarian/vegan restaurant (such a rarity in Africa!) and had a fantastic breakfast, before the girls set off to see the castle. Since I visited the castle when I was here last time, I chilled on the beach. We all had lunch at the same restaurant (the food was that good!) and then made the journey into the National Park, where we were staying Saturday night.

Our hotel there was a bit odd - it's built around this small pond, and the pond is full of crocodiles that you can feed. The hotel itself was a bit run down, but it was a nice place to chill and listen to all the birds in the forest. Sunday morning Lina and Madeline went to do the canopy walk in the forest -I did it last time I was here and Emmanuel is afraid of heights - and then we all mentally prepared ourselves for the trip back to Cape Coast, expecting a tough bargaining session with a cab driver for a fair price back, or having to watch trotro after trotro pass us because they were all full. We got to the side of the road and tried to flag down a trotro, which drove past us because it was full, when a very nice SUV pulled over. Confused, we watched as it pulled up and a teddy bear of a man jumped out and asked us, in an American accent, where we were going. When we told him Cape Coast he offered to drive us there! The SUV was already quite full - they were a group of 4 missionaries from Missouri on their way to Accra - but they all squeezed in to let the four of us hop on. It was a cramped ride to Cape Coast, but it was lovely, they were such nice guys and we were so lucky to have been standing by the road as they drove by! It was one of the nicest things that's happened to me in Ghana!

We had lunch at our favourite restaurant and all tried the vegan banana cake, which was so good I had to ask the recipe. The restaurant supports a charity that provides education and skill training to street kids, and most of the staff are placed in the restaurant to learn English and serving skills, so I shouldn't have been that this the recipe what I got back, written on the back of a napkin:

-margarine
-sugar
-flour
-bananas

Best recipe ever! I'll have to try it when I get back!

We found the Ford station without too much hassle and the journey back to Accra only took 3 hours instead of the 4 it took on Friday since there is less traffic on Sunday (everyone is at church).

It was a lovely weekend, such a nice way to spend my last weekend in Africa!

The past two days at the centre have been very low-key. Yesterday we received a huge donation from a local bank, including desks and 3 flat screen tvs and valued at 10,000 GHC (slightly less than $5000!) so we had a huge dance party (Lina and I were even briefly seen on the nightly news!) and today was very relaxed since it's the last day before the centre closes for August, and it was a national day of mourning for the president.

We've given two of the staff the mission to train the staff in the other classrooms in September, and hope that we've managed to make a small difference to the centre. We've tried to provide the staff with small changes they can easily incorporate into the day, and have also given the program directors a few easy ways to evaluate the staff and provide them with some positive feedback. Hopefully it helps! Working at the centre has been a fantastic experience in training others and working with limited resources, I'm so happy I came back here!

Posted by meggiep 13:21 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

Crazy, chaotic Accra

sunny 25 °C

In the past few days I’ve had a chance to experience a few of the city’s craziest, most chaotic places.

On Tuesday, Emmanuel, Lina, and I decided to visit the Arts Centre, a big craft market by the water, to buy all our souvenirs and presents. My friend Richard gave us directions for getting there by trotro, and it all started out smoothly, but of course didn’t stay that way. At one point during our trotro ride everyone started yelling at the driver in Twi, many people got off, and a few people got on with bags and bags of rice. No one told us what was happening, but soon the driver told us to get off, as we were at the last stop. Richard had said to take the trotro to the last stop and we’d be there, but when we got it out, it was very obvious we were nowhere near the Arts Centre. We asked a few people, got some vague directions and started walking through what I later realized was Makola Market, Accra’s busiest, craziest market. The streets were jammed with cars, taxis, trotros, and motorbikes; the sidewalks filled with stalls and stalls of everything you could ever want to buy. People were pushing past us, walking in all directions, others grabbing us and trying to sell us things. It was exhausting, fighting through this madness, and walking a block took us almost 20 minutes. After a few wrong turns, asking several more people for directions, we finally arrived at the Arts Centre. But it wasn’t a relief - hassle in the Arts Centre is probably the worst in all of Accra, and at every turn we were accosted by stall owners begging us to come inside and take a look, sometimes shoving products into our hands in an effort to force us to buy them.

We managed to fight our way through, and found some good deals, but we unanimously agreed to pay a bit more to take a taxi back home.

Wednesday Lina and I had to brave the Ghanaian hospital system. She’s been feeling sick for awhile and it’s not going away, so we decided that she should see a doctor. We left work at 12 and made our way to a clinic at a hospital not far from where we’re staying. Then the waiting began - we had to wait at reception, then wait while they made her a hospital ID card, then wait to pay a registration fee, then wait for them to make her a hospital file, then wait to see a doctor, then wait at the lab. It took almost six hours (which honestly isn’t much worse than a walk-in clinic at home!) and thankfully today she‘s feeling better so we don‘t have to go back.

Work at the centre has been going very well this week. Monday Lina and I demonstrated some positive teaching techniques, and on Tuesday a few of the staff pulled us aside to ask more questions about it. Wednesday we demonstrated a different way to teach a concept that the children were struggling with, and the response from the staff was so enthusiastic! It’s great to see them motivated to make changes, and Lina and I feel that we’ve given them a few things that they’ll be able to use once we’re gone. We’ve decided to stick with training the staff in one classroom the whole time we’re here, so that we can make sure the staff in that classroom feel really confident about what we’ve taught them, and we can empower them to teach it to the staff in the other classrooms. It’s so encouraging, we’ll leave feeling like we’ve at least made a small difference for the centre!

This weekend we’re headed up the coast to Cape Coast and Kakum National Park for one last weekend here before I go back!

Posted by meggiep 13:41 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

Rasta Recovery

Chilling on the beach at Kokrobite

overcast 29 °C

I didn’t have the greatest week this week - Tuesday night I caught a nasty stomach virus that’s been going through my friends, and Wednesday I was horribly sick all day, with a fever that was so high I was hallucinating. I’m better now, but not completely better…still having trouble eating regular food and feeling very tired. So we decided the best way to recover would be to go to the beach for the weekend!

Kokrobite beach is a fishing town that’s only 25 Km from Accra, but of course it took Lina and I almost 3 hours to get there Friday night. First we had to take a trotro from our hostel to circle, a big trotro station, where we had to cross a bridge, ask a bunch of people for directions, and get a trotro to Kaneshie market, one of the biggest markets and trotro stations in Accra. Kaneshie is crazy; people everywhere, rushing to catch busses and trotros, selling everything from toothpaste to toilet seats to bread, and no one seemed to have time to help us find our next trotro. We asked 5 different people who gave us 5 different directions to find the trotro, and finally, a lovely Ghanaian man came to our rescue. He walked us almost the whole way to our trotro (the one he was catching was nearby) and then when we found it, we saw him run over and make sure we had gone the right way!

We didn’t get into Kokrobite until after dark because of all the traffic around Accra. We didn’t know how to get to the hostel from where we were dropped off, and all of a sudden a man came over and told us he could take us to the hostel. It was really dark - there are no streetlights - and he was about to walk us down a dark road with a bunch of his friends. The whole situation felt a bit sketchy and we were getting nervous, but luckily a taxi driver appeared and drove us to the hotel.

Once we were settled we had a great time at Kokrobite. The beach isn’t the most beautiful in the world, but there’s always something to watch - locals crowd the beach selling food for themselves and souvenirs for the tourists, and there are always small fishing boats leaving and returning. Each time a boat returned to shore, we watched as half the village pitched in to pull it back onto the beach, and then everyone crowd around to see how good the catch was.

Kokrobite also seems to be the Rasta capital of Ghana. The beach is lined with Rastas playing drums, selling handicrafts, and giving impromptu reggae performances. We found a little shack that sold vegetarian food (including mushroom and tofu kebabs!) and while the owner made our lunch, his friend sat with us, chatting about religion, Canada, and Ghana, and even fixed Lina’s shoe for her for free!

Saturday night we met up with Emmanuel and Madeline and we all went to the big reggae party. It was a fun night, but as the night wore on and the locals drank more, they became more and more aggressive - at one point all of us were suddenly dancing with men who were a little too touchy-feely, and we had different men following us around all night. By the end of the night we were so annoyed by the men that we went to bed!

Sunday the weather wasn’t great so we came back to the city in the afternoon; it was a much shorter journey than on Friday because everyone is at church on Sunday so the roads are clear.

Starting today Lina and I have been training the staff at the centre on concepts like positive reinforcement and teaching receptive language (i.e having the kids touch an object rather than try to say it). Today went really well; the staff seem to be warming up to us a bit more, and they were very receptive to what we had to show them. We have plans to continue training through the rest of this week and are very encouraged by how well it went today!

Posted by meggiep 07:46 Comments (0)

An Obruni Returns

One week on in Accra

semi-overcast 30 °C

I’ve had such a good first week back in Ghana!

I’d forgotten a bit how intense West Africa can be. Even at the airport, there are throngs of people, all urgently pushing you forward, and I can’t walk down the street in Accra without someone trying to sell me something, someone else trying to be my friend, and someone else trying to pick me up. There are crowds, cars, trotros, animals, and smells everywhere you go. But Ghanaians are warm and welcoming, so eager to ask you where you’re from and how long you’ll stay in Ghana, that handling the intensity of Accra is a bit easier.

It was great to be back at the autism centre. It’s not easy work though. The centre is stretched for resources, and many of the staff have very little training on autism and how to teach children with autism. There are also big cultural differences - in how children are viewed, how discipline is viewed, work ethic - that I know I can’t change, but are hard to get used to. Serwah is doing an amazing job trying to keep up with the latest research but passing that information on to her staff in a way that they’ll understand and use with the kids is difficult. It’s also hard to make suggestions, because I don’t want to feel like some arrogant westerner coming in with all the answers. It’s definitely a delicate balance. I spent last week just observing the three different classes and getting to know the kids (some I remember from the last time I was here!) and this week I’m sketching out a few ideas on little changes they can make.

Since this is Ghana, I’ve met so many friendly people, both locals and other travelers. I’ve been hanging out with Katrina, who is a student at NYU here in Ghana to research the cocoa industry, and Monday night Charles, who works at my hostel, took us out dancing. We ended up at a table with us and about 10 other Ghanaian men (not surprising) but had a blast trying to learn asunto, the latest Ghanaian dance craze. Charles is very protective of us and made sure we weren’t harassed. I’ve also made a few friends just on the street, as you do in Ghana. I met an accountant named Frank who wants to teach me Twi, a Rastafarian photographer who’s exhibit I’m going to next week, and the man who owns the water purification plant, who wanted to take me on a tour there! On Sunday I had such a Ghana moment - I had been in a café researching what I‘m going to do when I get home, and was stressed, sad, homesick, walking back to the hostel and wanting more than anything to be left alone. Of course that’s not possible here, and soon I had a man trying to talk to me, asking what was wrong. I kept telling him that I was having a bad day and wanted to be left alone, but he kept saying that sharing would help, so I told him a bit about why I was sad, and he waited for me while I stopped in a shop. When I came out he had woven a bookmark for me with my name on it and refused payment, he just said it was a gift to make me feel happier! I love this country.

I’ve also made friends with Victoria, who has a food stall down the street. She sets up each night over a few propane tanks and charcoal stoves and makes massive dishes of friend noodles and omelets, all for under $2. Amazing!

My friend from work, Lina, arrived yesterday and will be volunteering with me until I go home. It’s definitely nice to have her and the other volunteers to bounce ideas off of. I’m hoping we can make a few small changes to programming at the centre to make life for the kids and staff a little easier.

Being back in Ghana feels so familiar and welcoming, I’m glad it’s my last stop before I go back home!

Posted by meggiep 11:29 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

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